Deciding between Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for your visit to the UAE can be a difficult decision. Both destinations are similar but also very different in so many ways.
So, which is best for you – Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
This article compares all the differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to help you decided which city you want to visit or live in.
The United Arab Emirates is surprisingly one of the most romantic places for couples, and a great place to tick off some of those adventurous bucket list items.
In our opinion, we absolutely love a quick stopover in Abu Dhabi on our way to Europe. But, Dubai is generally more popular amongst tourists. If your itinerary allows, we would highly recommend you make time to visit both cities as they each have amazing and unique experiences to offer.
However, if you only have time for a quick visit to the UAE and don’t have enough time to fit both destinations into your itinerary, then we hope this guide will help you decide between Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Use our comparison tool to compare the differences between Abu Dhabi vs Dubai and decide which is better for you!
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Key Differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Is Abu Dhabi and Dubai the Same Place?
The first question most people ask when comparing the difference between Dubai and Abi Dhabi: “Is Abu Dhabi in Dubai?”
First up, it’s important to understand that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not the same place. Abu Dhabi is not “in” Dubai and Dubai is not “in” Abu Dhabi.
The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven different emirates (like states). Dubai and Abu Dhabi are actually two completely seperate emirates and cities with separate rulers.
How is Abu Dhabi Different from Dubai?
As mentioned, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two completely independent emirates (states) that make up part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the UAE and is home to the ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Sultan Al Nahyan.
Is Abu Dhabi Bigger than Dubai?
In terms of land size Abu Dhabi is much larger than all the other emirates in the UAE. Dubai is the second largest emirate but is actually the most populous, with 3.4 million people living there in comparison to Abu Dhabi, which has a population of 1.45 million.
Is Abu Dhabi or Dubai Safer?
Abu Dhabi has consistently ranked one of the safest cities in the world to live. However, in saying that, both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are considered very safe places with low crime rates and a high standard of living across the board.
What is the Richest City in the UAE?
Most people don’t realise that Abu Dhabi is actually the wealthiest emirate and the richest city in the world. This is because the emirate is home to one of the largest, accessible oil reserves on the planet. The ruler of Abu Dhabi has invested a ton of money into the city’s infrastructure and environment, so it’s widely considered the prettiest emirate.
Is Abu Dhabi More Strict than Dubai?
Yes. There’s a much greater emphasis on religion, culture and tradition in the city of Abu Dhabi, which means that it’s generally more conservative than Dubai. There’s also less nightlife in Abu Dhabi than Dubai.
In many parts of Abu Dhabi, it’s the norm for women and men to dress more conservatively, however there is no need to cover yourself from head to toe, as some might believe.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both international cities, so they are gradually becoming more accepting of western dress standards. Wearing shorts and skirts at nightclubs and bikinis around the pool at hotels and waterparks in perfectly acceptable, but outside of the hotels and resorts, you should still be mindful of how much skin you display in public.
Compare Abu Dhabi vs Dubai – At A Glance
Dubai or Abu Dhabi – which is better for…
Museums & Mosques:
Abu Dhabi has better museums and mosques – we highly recommend the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, The Abu Dhabi Louvre and The Presidential Palace.
Nightlight and Dining:
Dubai has the best nightlife and a wide range of dining options. Abu Dhabi has great restaurants but their nightlife scene is a little more subdued.
Desert Safari & Activites:
Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer access to the desert-based activities such as dune bashing, camel riding etc. Although, our pick would be Abu Dhabi as the desert is larger and there are some beautiful desert oasis resorts, such as the stunning Anantara Qasr al Sarab.
Beaches & Parks:
Abu Dhabi has the most beautiful and secluded beaches, beach clubs and green spaces. Check out the beach at the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri resort which has stunning sunset views over the Grand Mosque and city skyline.
100% Dubai! From glitzy shopping malls to traditional souks, Dubai is the place to go to spend that moula!
Depends on the type of couple – Abu Dhabi’s beach resorts offers a more subdued and romantic atmosphere, whereas Dubai is the scene for glitzy party vibes.
Dubai has the most entertainment options for kids. Think aquariums in malls, epic water parks, dancing fountains, and the tallest building in the world! However, there is also a great entertainment complex on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi including Ferrari World!
Distance from Abu Dhabi to Dubai
Can You Visit Abu Dhabi from Dubai?
The distance from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is approximately 140 km. Driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi (or vice versa) takes about 1 hour to 1.5 hours, depending on traffic.
So yes, it’s absolutely possible to visit Abu Dhabi from Dubai in a day trip or overnight stay. Many tourists visiting the UAE opt to stay in Dubai and visit Abu Dhabi in a day trip. However, we personally feel that Abu Dhabi is the hidden gem of the two and think it has so much more to offer!
We recommend staying in Abu Dhabi (because accommodation is cheaper) and visiting Dubai in a day trip or spending a few nights in both cities. There is so much to do in each city that one day is usually not long enough to experience everything.
If you’re planning an Abu Dhabi day trip from Dubai (or overnight trip), be sure to check out our Abu Dhabi stopover itinerary, which details what to see and do in Abu Dhabi during one or two days.
Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: Climate
In terms of the key differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, climate is not a huge factor. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both located in the United Arab Emirates, roughly 140 km away from one another. This means that the climate in both cities is very similar.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai both experience two seasons – summer and winter. The best time of year to visit both these cities is during the winter (November to February). This is because of the scorching heat experienced during UAE summers (above 40 degrees C).
Dubai vs Abu Dhabi: Cost of Living
Is Abu Dhabi or Dubai cheaper?
Both cities have similar prices for food, drinks and taxis. However, the cost of hotel accommodation in Abu Dhabi on average is cheaper than Dubai.
We have found that flights to Dubai are often cheaper than flights to Abu Dhabi. But this could be the other way round depending on where you’re departing from (we usually fly from Australia and stopover in Abu Dhabion our way to Europe).
Emirates is the airline that flies to Dubai, whereas Etihad is the airline that flies to Abu Dhabi. So, your stopover city may depend on which airline you purchase your ticket with.
Pro Tip: Etihad regularly offers free 2-night stopovers in Abu Dhabi for flights between Europe and Australia. This includes free accommodation in Abu Dhabi (usually 4 star hotels). So, you could spend one day in Abu Dhabi plus a day trip to Dubai or spend 2 days in Abu Dhabi and follow our itinerary!
Abu Dhabi vs Dubai: Accommodation
When deciding between Abu Dhabi vs Dubai, accommodation is a big factor because the UAE can be quite a costly country to visit or live. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not known as budget travel destinations. It can be difficult to find hostels in either city, however you are more likely to find affordable hostels in Dubai than Abu Dhabi.
When it comes to hotel accommodation on the other hand – you’ll find cheaper options for hotels in Abu Dhabi than Dubai. Luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi start from $400 per night.
Dubai is known for its opulent luxury hotels with glittering facades, unique design, lavish pools and extravagant nightlife. These luxury hotels can range upwards of $1000 per night.
The Verdict: Dubai offers more options at the extreme ends of the scale (more hostels and upscale luxury hotels), whereas Abu Dhabi generally has cheaper hotel accommodation across the board.
Best places to stay in Abu Dhabi:
- Rosewood Abu Dhabi
- Radisson Blu Abu Dhabi Corniche
- Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri
- Emirates Palace Hotel
- Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers
- The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
Best Places to Stay in The Dubai:
- One&Only Royal Mirage Dubai
- Burj Al Arab Jumeirah
- Grand Cosmopolitan Hotel
- Park Hyatt Dubai
- Rove Downtown
- Edge Creekside Hotel
Abu Dhabi or Dubai: Things to do
Things to do in Abu Dhabi:
If you’ve read this far, then it’s no secret that we’re big fans of Abu Dhabi. I used to work there and absolutely fell in love with the emirate.
Abu Dhabi is the more traditional of the two emirates. It’s also the wealthier and prettier city. A lot of money has been invested in building beautiful parks, palm fringed highways and it offers stunning beach resorts.
Many of Abu Dhabi’s attractions are based around culture and the arts. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the star attraction in Abu Dhabi, with its gold and white marble mosaic courtyard and towering white minarets – it’s an absolutely stunning place to visit.
The Presidential Palace is another obscenely beautiful and opulent museum, which exhibits ancient artefacts and describes the history and significance of the UAE parliament.
Then there’s the architecturally designed Abu Dhabi Lourve on Saadiyat Island which exhibits artifacts showing the connection between civilisations and cultures over thousands of years – a strikingly different experiences to its sister museum in Paris.
For families and thrill-seekers, Yas Island is the entertainment complex of Abu Dhabi, with regular concerts and adrenaline inducing activities. This is the location of the Abu Dhabi Formula One track, as well as Ferrari World.
If you want to experience the natural environment of the UAE, then you can venture into the Abu Dhabi desert on a desert safari tour. After some dune bashing fun, your guide will stop at one of the largest sand dunes to watch the sun go down, before heading to a local camp for a traditional BBQ dinner and belly dancing. This is a must-do experience!
Plan your trip to Abu Dhabi by visiting the official Abu Dhabi Tourism website here.
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Things to do in Dubai:
If you love shopping and nightlife, then Dubai is your Mecca. The luxurious Dubai Mall is absolutely enormous and is the centre of Dubai’s shopping and entertainment scene. Featuring a mammoth 51 by 20 metre aquarium tank at the centre of the mall, a myriad of restaurants and the famous Dubai dancing fountains. You’ll find everything from budget international fashion chains to designer boutiques, and every luxury fashion brand known to man.
Dubai is the city that boasts the biggest and best of everything. From the Dubai Mall, you can ascend the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – for a bird’s eye view of the Dubai skyline. You can also dive in the world’s deepest pool (60 metres) at Deep Dive Dubai, or hop on the world’s largest observation wheel, Ain Dubai.
For a more traditional and cultural experience, explore the labyrinth of walkways in the Gold Souk, take in the intoxicating aromas at the Spice Souk, or ride an Abra (traditional wooden boat) across Dubai Creek. For a glimpse into old-world Dubai before the skyscrapers and man-made islands, visit the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood.
For those seeking thrills and the good nightlife, head to one of Dubai’s premier dining destinations at The Dubai Marina, Wasl 51 at Jumeirah 1, or The Dubai Mall. And the adrenaline junkies can freefall over The Palm at Skydive Dubai.
For families with kids (or the big kids), head to Legoland Dubai theme park, or Aquaventure Waterpark – yet another one the world’s largest!
Plan your trip to Dubai by visiting the official Dubai Tourism website here.
Feeling Inspired? Check out our pick of the top 10 bucket list places to visit this year!
Dubai or Abu Dhabi: Which is Better for you?
Dubai is a larger city than Abu Dhabi, but the emirate of Abu Dhabi has greater land size. Dubai is well known as an international business and tourist destination, whereas Abu Dhabi has great significance when it comes to politics, the arts and culture.
Dubai offers something for the little kids and big kids alike, with a vast array of options for nightlife, entertainment, dining, and shopping, as well as a variety of accommodation to suit a range of budgets. Abu Dhabi has few hostels and is not known as a budget travel destination (neither are though), however the hotels in Abu Dhabi are cheaper than Dubai and its restaurant scene is on par.
Abu Dhabi is also less chaotic, more traditional, more romantic, and has better beaches and parks. While Dubai is more popular amongst the majority of visitors to the UAE, we happen to think Abu Dhabi is a completely underrated gem!
Go to Dubai over Abu Dhabi if: You have a higher budget and are looking for entertainment, nightlife, glitz and glamour and shopping!
Go to Abu Dhabi over Dubai if: You are looking for cheaper accommodation, prefer a quieter pace, and want to visit beaches, museums, mosques and learn about Emirati culture.
Find the best prices on hotels in Dubai or Abu Dhabi
Do you have any other questions relating to Abu Dhabi or Dubai? Post your questions in the comments section below.
About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Bucket List Seekers – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries, and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.